It’s a story that may well predate time itself. Keanu Reeves plays a hitman who is forced out of retirement to exact bloody revenge on a group of gangsters foolish enough to get on his bad side.
But what John Wick lacks in narrative invention it more than makes up for it in visual panache and subversive humour, making this suped-up action thriller the perfect Saturday night movie.
First-time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch direct the action with a clinical precision that mirrors the effortless efficiency of their remorseless assassin, unleashing a torrent of choreographed carnage that takes its inspiration from asian anime and martial arts films by using clean wide shots to frame Wick’s slick moves and slam the audience into every punishing fist fight and explosive shootout.
The story itself also takes a minimalistic approach, swiftly establishing Wick as an empathetic killer by showing him mourning his dead wife and bonding with the adorable puppy she bought for him.
By the time Alfie Allen and his crew of feral Russian thugs arrive to strip away his last hope of salvation, we’re primed and willing for Wick to unleash the relentless killing machine within – murdering a dog will do that to a man, you know.
His character may be the stoic type who prefers to let his unflinching butchery do the talking, but Reeves still delivers a crackling on-screen presence that leaves you in no doubt of Wick’s formidability. The Matrix-star also exposes the vulnerable core of a man tormented by his own immoral choices with a subtlety that marks this performance as a welcome return to form following the underwhelming 47 Ronin.
The plot barrels forward with the propulsive force of an automatic machine gun as Wick cleaves a blood-strewn path to his intended target, but writer Derek Kolstad ensures the action is undercut with moments of wry humour that are essential in fantastical actioners such as this.
Quirky flourishes like the hotel that caters exclusively to a guild of assassins, and is home to Lance Reddick’s superbly understated concierge, whose perfunctory reaction to his guests’ ‘activities’ never fails to amuse, offer a welcome chance for the audience to catch its breath in-between the near- relentless blood-letting.
A sequel is seemingly inevitable, but while there’s plenty of intrigue around Wick and his evidently eventful past to make for an interesting follow-up, the high risk of diminishing returns makes it hard not to hope that all involved honour this film’s surprisingly understated conclusion, which provided a measure of closure to a troubled man seeking redemption, and let John Wick return home.
Anyway, isn’t it time we let a movie hitman enjoy his retirement undisturbed?
Runtime: 101 mins; Genre: Action/Thriller; Released: 10 April 2015;
Directors: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch; Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad;
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen
Click here to watch the trailer for John Wick